An observation about terroir from my own back yard.

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2012 at 7:57 pm

The concept of terroir has varying degrees of popularity worldwide, but nowhere is it more prevalent than in France, where it was born. That is reflected in the fact that almost never do you hear anything other than the French word used to describe it. Terroir is the idea that the place the grapes are grown are fundamental to the character of the wine. The soil itself, as well as the climate of the vineyard, the weather of the vintage, and the techniques used by the grape-grower all come together to influence the wine. Burgundy is perhaps the best place to see the concept of terroir in practice, with literally hundreds of individual vineyards, all one next to the other, occupying a space that is only about 30 miles long and a few miles wide. Looking at the place itself, one might be inclined to wonder, how much difference can there really be between this vineyard and the one next door? This very question occurred to me recently while I was gardening. I bought my home two years ago, and have been slowly breaking in new sections of the yard for gardening, since I have really no use for grass. I found very early on that much of the soil in my yard had a lot of clay to it. I had to mix a lot of soil amender to prepare the ground for vegetables. But this year, after clearing some of the grass from my front yard for planting, I found the soil there much more sandy. Now obviously I realize that these two spots are only 100 feet apart, and are part of the same river flood plane, so on a fundamental level they are still very very similar, but it just got me thinking about how soil can differ within a seemingly small distance.

Likewise, I got a lesson in microclimate from my garden a few weeks ago when there was a mild spring frost. I had already planted several of my tomato plants, and was foolhardy enough not to protect them, seeing no frost on the forecast. But of course, the frost did come, but only damaged the plants in the front yard. That’s because the back yard is more enclosed and protected, and that one or two degrees made all the difference. Again, this can be attributed to the layout of my yard, which you wouldn’t find in a vineyard, but consider the difference it could make to a group of vines that were perhaps half a kilometer apart, if one got just a little more sun, or shade, or rain, or hail. Since cold air runs downhill, you might find vineyards at the foot of a hill that experienced more frost damage than one just slightly uphill. That’s why all the Grand Crus of Burgundy are located in the middle of the hillside.

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